Before every game West Virginia State’s men’s basketball team played last season, Anthony Pittman prepared himself, mentally and physically, like he was going to tear off his warm-ups and take the court.
Then game time came. And he didn’t. He couldn’t. As a partial qualifier, he had to wait. That waiting was no fun.
“Really, every day I wanted to get back,” he said. “Every game day, I felt like I was about to play. Knowing I wasn’t just made me sick.”
When the waiting ended at the start of this season, Pittman showed the rest of the Mountain East Conference he was ready to go from two-sport high school standout to a basketball player integral to the Yellow Jackets’ success. Following Wednesday night’s game at Concord, State finishes its regular season Saturday at the University of Charleston.
The former Capital High All-Stater originally gave up his hoop dreams, heading to Antelope Valley Junior College in California to play football. That Golden State stay was short and Pittman wanted to come home, asking State basketball coach Bryan Poore if he could join his team.
Poore welcomed Pittman with open arms, but the NCAA deemed Pittman a partial qualifier. Pittman could practice with the team, but not play. In the end, though, Pittman looked at it as a blessing in disguise.
“Just getting a feel for one sport, just being able to focus on one sport, I was able to get my body back into basketball shape,” he said. “It helped me out, just getting the feel of basketball, playing with college athletes and getting my body right.”
Pittman showed just how back in shape he was in his debut season, showcasing an effective all-around game. Prior to Wednesday’s games, he was 20th in the MEC in scoring at 15.1 points per game, sixth in rebounding at 7.7 per game, ninth in field goal percentage at 50.2 percent, 15th in free throw percentage at 74.6 percent, second in blocked shots at 1.6 per game and third in steals at 2.2 per game.
What has helped Pittman, and what Poore said he worked on most during last season, was developing a consistent shot.
“He is so explosive,” Poore said. “His first step is ridiculous. So he can get by anybody. The only way you can guard him is by backing off him and making him shoot jump shots. He’s still not where we want him to be, but he’s improved tremendously, and I think as that develops, he’s going to become harder to guard.”
Pittman credits his football background for some of his success in basketball. His steals and blocks are generated from an anticipation developed as a defensive back. It has helped him become a two-time MEC Player of the Week this season and helped him lead the Yellow Jackets to an 18-7 overall record and 13-7 record in conference. State finished last season at 11-18 overall and 8-14 in the MEC.
“He’s got those instincts that you can’t coach,” Poore said. “That’s where those steals and blocked shots all come into play. You’ve got to have instincts. He’s got that.”
What’s best, Pittman said, is that all this is happening so close to home, not just the trials of last season, but the successes of this saason.
“It’s definitely important,” he said. “They really helped me through my redshirt year, keeping me on task.”